New faces highlight Portales Open

By Kevin Wilson

Tennis, more than any other sport, is one where a small difference in skill makes a huge difference in the final score.
So what happened on Saturday when a golfer making her Portales Open debut played players with decades of experience? For Cassidy Merrick, it was a chance to be a comedian.
“I’m just trying to make everyone laugh,” said Merrick, who played with boyfriend Rustin Self in the mixed doubles open division. “I knew they’d laugh at me.”
Merrick, the reigning medalist on the Portales High golf team, found that none of her skills on the golf course translated to success on the tennis court.
Both Self’s and Merrick’s families waited on every move Cassidy made, from laughter on misplayed balls to raucous cheering whenever she hit a winner.
Though Self shouldered the load and played like it was a singles match, he was impressed with his partner.
“She did good,” Self said. “She impressed me.”
The performance was not impressive enough to earn a trip to the finals, however, as the pair was defeated in a semifinal by Joan Tivis and Jeremy Dudley, a former coach of Self on the PHS tennis team.
Dudley later joked that Self should have to play in a golf tournament to even things out.
Self and Merrick did make it to the third round before being eliminated.
“We did win one,” Self said. “That really surprised me.”
“Really?” Merrick asked, to which Self quickly replied, “No.”
On the other side of the bracket was a similar pairing. Jeremy Jones and Jaytha Culpepper advanced to today’s mixed doubles championship. They will face Dudley and Tivis today at Zia Tennis Courts. Championship play begins at 1 p.m. with the men’s singles open championship match.
Culpepper, like Merrick, had never played tennis in high school. Unlike Merrick, she had played in the Portales Open before and could draw from experience in last year’s tournament.
Jaytha played in mixed doubles with her brother Dathan last year, but needed a new partner when Dathan had an official’s clinic in Albuquerque. She didn’t need to look too long for a new partner.
“He asked me before my brother did,” Jaytha said of Jones, last year’s No. 2 singles player for the Ram tennis team.
It’s a good thing he did, as far as Jones was concerned.
“I played awful (today),” Jones said. “She played good.”
As for Merrick and Self, there’s always next year … right?
“If I’m invited,” Merrick said with a laugh.